Church attendance tapers off months after attacks
At ground zero a cast iron cross that was found among the rubble of what used to be the financial center of Manhattan stands against the skyline. The cross has been called a symbol of hope and healing by workers at the site and a reminder of how residents turned to faith after the tragedy.
“I have been meditating about the cross at ground zero and how it shows God’s presence in all of this,” said Father Ernest Bayer of St. Michael’s Catholic Church in Craig. “History has proven that the truth will survive and all I can think about is how the truth arose out of the debris.”
Religious institutions across the nation reported an increase in attendance after Sept. 11, yet, in August a survey from Barna Research Group, a marketing firm that follows religious trends, found that attendance at most worship services have reverted back to normal.
Locally the trend of church attendance was mixed.
“We saw a bounce in attendance and it has been sustained,” said Bishop Joe Ence of the 2nd Ward of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. “I can’t directly attribute the increase to the 11th, but honestly, I think it is a big reason.”
Meanwhile, other congregations report an effect similar to the national trend.
“We saw an increase for a couple of weeks or months but not much of a lasting impact,” Bayer said. “I think it shows that a lot of people were aware of a need for comfort from something other than themselves.”
“In two months our attendance was right back down,” said Pastor Dave Ross of the Craig Assembly of God. “But I think it shows how there are a number of people that might not attend church regularly who are aware of the need for prayer.”
“The immediate response made it evident that people turn to God in crisis,” said Pastor Brian Haynes, who was on a prayer tour to the nation’s state capitols during the attacks, and is currently at the Craig First Baptist Church. “It impacted all people in their spiritual lives but it seems that the regular congregation was more committed.”
The other church leaders agree that while the impact in numbers may not have been sustained, the ways of the regular congregation has changed since Sept. 11.
“We were already a church that relied a lot on prayer,” said Ross. “But afterward, we refocused some of our prayer time on the leaders of our nation and for the victims.”
“Subjects that we have been more aware of in prayer is peace and homeland security,” Bayer said. “Our God is a god of love but when something like that happened, it was hard to seek out for love instead of vengeance.”
A common theme among Americans after Sept. 11 was a refocus of priorities in life and the religious leaders saw the same thing among their congregations.
“If there was any glimmer of good that came out of the day it was that it brought families closer together,” Ence said. “Many people called families and friends they hadn’t seen in a while.”
This morning and tonight churches are participating in ceremonies and prayer services remembering a day that forever changed the nation.
“It made us look at life and realize that we are as vulnerable as the next country,” said Ross.
“It made us hug a little tighter and pray a little harder.”
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